The importance of the Arabic language should not be understated. It is spoken by an estimated 420 million people worldwide, with 26 countries classifying themselves as Arabic speaking.
It is often considered challenging for native speakers of European languages such as French, Spanish, German, and Portuguese to learn Arabic.
This might be because it has three vowels, with the vowel length distinguishing the word meaning. Or that it has a wide range of consonants produced at the back of the throat, with each consonant being voice or unvoiced. Perhaps it is down to the fact that, as in other Semitic languages, such as Hebrew, the word order is verb-subject-object.
One particularly challenging aspect of learning Arabic is that there are many different versions. The written language consists mainly of Modern standard Arabic (Msa) and Classic Arabic. Luckily the difference between the two is largely not important. Msa is used in written texts for an international market, such as newspapers and books. Classical Arabic is the form of Arabic used in the Islamic holy book of the Quran, making the Arabic language significant in the Muslim world.
The story for spoken Arabic is somewhat different. Each country has its own dialect. This means that there are large differences in vocabulary, phrases, expressions, pronunciation, and sometimes even grammatical structure. In other words, Egyptian Arabic differs from Moroccan Arabic, which in turn differs from Lebanese Arabic and Palestinian Arabic.
As you can see, there are many things that you need to know about Arabic. But the one thing that all of this has in common is that each version of Arabic has its foundations in Arabic script. So if you want to learn Arabic to do business in Qatar, to go on holiday in the United Arab Emirates, or even to study the Quran in Saudi Arabia, you'll need to start off with the Arabic alphabet.
Arabic can be intimidating at first glance, if only because its alphabet is indecipherable to newcomers. But it's possible to learn the Arabic alphabet's 28 letters in only a few months of studying.
Learn all about how to learn Arabic letters without taking a traditional lesson!
Discover different Arabic lessons on Superprof.
An Introduction to the Arabic Alphabet Letters
The Origins of the Arabic Alphabet
Heavily influenced by the Aramaic alphabet, written Arabic (by which we mean, in this context, Literary Arabic and not dialectal Arabic, nor spoken) appeared for the first time in the 5th century in Syria. However, the Arabic language had already existed in spoken form for several centuries and was steadily attracting new speakers. Little by little, the language became more important and overtook Aramaic, the last traces of which faded in the 4th century.
The alphabet, however, was quickly deemed too simple, not accounting for the many unique features of spoken Arabic. So, even though written Arabic doesn't generally use diacritical marks (accents), Arabic writers at the time adopted the dot and the hamza. Furthermore, the original 22 letters of the Arabic alphabet became 28 letters through the course of natural evolutionary processes in the language. In the 8th century, Arabic grammarians reorganized the alphabet of the language to facilitate study of it.
Thanks to the advent of Islam and the circulation of Arabic-language Qurans, the Arabic alphabet became a necessity for the people of North Africa. Even today, translating the Quran poses problems for linguists, who feel that the true meanings of the words can only be understood in Arabic. The Arabic alphabet is thus an indispensable tool in terms of getting to know Arab culture and understanding the history of the Arab world.
The Characteristics of the Arabic Alphabet
Mastering Arabic script may take some time. Although the Arabic alphabet today only contains 28 official letters excluding the hamza, it has many differences to English. Compared to Western languages, Arabic is a unicameral language in which upper and lower-case letters do not exist. It can thus be somewhat difficult for a beginner with the Arabic language to determine the beginning and end of sentences in an Arabic text.
Arabic writing is done from right to left, which might be unusual for you, but it is done top to bottom, like most languages from around the world.
Each Arabic letter also has 3 variants: the structures of letters vary according to the their place in a word. So, there are:
- A written form of the letter on its own
- A written form of the letter at the beginning of a word
- A written form of the letter in the middle of a word
- A written form of the letter at the end of a word
This 28-letter alphabet quickly became an alphabet of 112 letters!
To master the Arabic alphabet, you need to take all of these variations into account or risk not being able to recognize a letter as you read in Arabic.
Additionally, in isolated written form, 18 letters are similar to each other:
- ع and غ
- ب , ت, and ث
- ج , ح, and خ
- د and ذ
- ر and ز
- س and ش
- ص and ض
- ط and ظ
Here, only the dots change (pay attention to the number of dots). It's thus not the writing of the letters themselves that's complex but memorizing all of the various forms.
When you learn Arabic London, you will spend many hours practising your Arabic letters.
Installing an Arabic Keyboard on Your Computer
In the 21st century, most students of a foreign language learn on their computers!
Students of Chinese, Japanese, or Arabic, however, might think it's impossible to write their second language on an electronic device due to the alphabets being different from the Latin one that we use in English.
But they're wrong!
To avoid having to copy and paste in order to include the Arabic alphabet on your machine, nothing is easier: there's software devoted specially to this.
First, if you make the decision to review your studies in Word, all you need to do is change the document's language settings from the tool menu. You'll have the choice between Traditional Arabic, Simplified Arabic (in which punctuation and vocalization cues are absent), and even Typeset Arabic.
To work in OpenOffice in Arabic, users need to go into Preferences, then Language Rules, then Languages, and finally to Complex Scripts to choose the Arabic language. It's also important to regulate the alignment since Arabic writing goes from right to left.
To get an Arabic keyboard directly on your machine, the software solutions are:
- On a computer: Arabic Keyboard for Windows, Arabic Keyboard for Apple IOS, Arabic Keyboard Typing Tutor, Virtual Keyboard, and many others.
- On a smartphone or tablet: IQQI Arabic Keyboard, GO Keyboard in Arabic, GBoard, etc.
There are even Arabic keyboards online that you can use.
With these helpful tools, it's possible to go over the Arabic Alphabet directly on your computer to write Arabic words and Arabic phrases, and to make files so you can study your notes as you need to.
Pronouncing the Letters
To learn the Arabic alphabet, it's equally important to never forget about oral expression!
Arabic letters can seem so different to our Roman alphabet that they can quickly seem indecipherable. That's why learning the phonetics of the letters helps you better memorize the alphabet.
There's no point in trying to find similarities between our Western languages and the Arabic language. Arabic has its own unique sound characteristics that can't compare to ours.
To learn and know the Arabic alphabet by heart, it's better to practice reading and re-reading Arabic signs aloud, to develop a sort of melody, since it's easier than normal reading.
Learning Arabic will require developing certain linguistic competencies:
- Your hearing: knowing how to listen will allows students to memorize the proper pronunciation as it's done by a native speaker. Educational websites that focus on Arabic or educational CD-Roms enable you to listen to words and letters of the Arabic alphabet.
- Your Arabic accent: reading the letters isn't enough, students need to learn to correctly pronounce each letter of the Arabic alphabet. To do this, students need to study the tonal qualities of the letters to place them within the context of the language and assimilate them when speaking Arabic.
- Your writing: like with Mandarin Chinese, Arabic writing has its own rules. The type of writing recommended by linguists allows you to avoid confusing the numerous letter and accelerates the memorization process. To see and reproduce the lettering correctly, students can watch instructional videos online.
To know if your pronunciation is correct, Arabic students can download smartphone applications that help with Arabic oral skills and with eliminating all traces of your English accent.
Before getting started learning the Arabic alphabet, it's recommended that students classify the letters into precise groups, to help learn them in a logical educational sense.
Students can choose to arrange the letters into the following examples of categories:
- Variable and non-variable letters
- Letters that are pronounced gently, and those that are pronounced more emphatically
- Letters that attach from the right and left side, and those that attach from the right, but not to the left
By making accurate and concise notes about these letter groups, Arabic students can more easily memorize the Arabic alphabet in less than a month!
Memorize the Arabic Alphabet Through Regular Practice
As you learn any foreign language, one common point of stress applies to all of them: regular practice!
It's useless to rush into learning only to forget within a few months. Some linguistic researchers have even developed a system of spaced repetition that's based on the forgetting curve: a student reviews a point or a word just before they're about to forget. This system enables students to learn Arabic letters at a rate of 10 to 15 per day, and to remember them better over the long term.
To learn according to educational best practices, nothing is more important than working through everything with expert educators of that language. Students' progress will be monitored and memorization of the Arabic alphabet will be made easier through the teacher's various exercises.
To internalize the Arabic alphabet, students can buy a variety of specialized manuals aimed at helping English speakers:
- The Arabic Alphabet: How to Read & Write It, by Nicholas Awde
- Write It in Arabic: A Workbook and Step-by-Step Guide to Writing the Arabic Alphabet, by Naglaa Ghali
- Sugar Comes from Arabic: A Beginner's Guide to Arabic Letters and Words, by Barbara Whitesides
- Modern Standard Arabic Grammar: A Learner's Guide, by Mohammad T. Alhawary
To review and practice on the go, some students of Arabic make the decision to download free educational apps, for Android or IOS.
Exercises offered on Smartphones have, more than any other medium, a fun and convenient approach appropriate for young students who need to have a good time while they learn.
There are also Arabic alphabet puzzles, board games, and word-search games to help children learn the Arabic language. These educational games are available everywhere online, but also in toy stores and bookstores.
By regularly practicing Arabic language skills and putting forth some effort, you can definitely learn the Arabic alphabet, in just a few months.
By learning arabic online, you will also pick up these basic skills.